Richard Pastore recommended this book to me when I asked for suggestions regarding “the best” Halloween book. Well, while it’s an inherently subjective concept, I’d have to say that this is about as Halloween-y of a Halloween story as there can be.
The story is narrated by a dog named Snuff, the familiar of Jack the Ripper. Jack, along with many other figures of classic horror lore, are engaged in something they refer to as “The Game,” which is sort of ritualistic competition spanning the month of October, in years when the moon is full on Halloween. Gradually, it becomes clear that the objective of the game is a ceremony which will either summon or defeat the Elder Gods.
In other words, it’s Universal Monsters meet Cthulhu. That’s right; we’ve got Larry Talbot, Dr. Frankenstein and Count Dracula here, but also references to H.P. Lovecraft’s world of Yog-Sothothery. Frankly, I have no idea how I never heard of this before now.
This might sound like a mere pastiche, and in the hands of a lesser writer, it easily could be, but Zelazny makes these classic characters his own. The fact that the story is told by Snuff, and focuses heavily on his interactions with the other “players’” familiars. This perspective makes the old characters feel fresh and new.
I read this shortly after Richard mentioned it to me in late September, because I wanted to finish it in time to write this review. But, I think the ideal way to enjoy it would be to read a chapter each day in October, since each chapter covers the events of one day, all building towards the final rite on Halloween night.
I especially like the way Zelazny carefully teases out the mystery. Snuff is clearly familiar with “The Game,” having played it many times before, but he never just gives an info-dump on how it all works. Rather, we have to piece it together gradually, following the hints of mystical artifacts and allusions to arcane rules. This is easily the best book I’ve ever read that hinges on a twist of magic wand law.
Richard was right, this is an excellent book for the Halloween season, and I’m grateful to him for recommending it. I was a little reluctant to read it, because I typically dislike stories involving Jack the Ripper and the like, but Zelazny handled it well. I’ll probably be re-reading this in many Octobers to come.